The government’s latest idea to re-introduce the detention of arriving irregular migrants on vessels offshore, isolating them due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is expected to cost taxpayers’ tens of thousands per day, possibly running into millions per month, The Shift has learned.
Several companies and individuals have presented their offers in response to a call issued by the Home Affairs Ministry for the ‘leasing of an accommodation vessel’.
The costs range from €12,400 to a staggering €150,000 a day, according to the list of offers published on the public tenders website.
Apart from offers from Captain Morgan and Supreme Travel, both being beneficiaries of lucrative direct orders disbursed by the Labour government a few weeks ago for an identical operation, other companies are now competing for the project.
According to the submissions received by the government, seen by The Shift, a Norwegian company with offices in Malta, Edda Accommodation, is offering state of the art vessels, normally used in conflict zones as part of offshore oil drilling operations, for a staggering €150,000 a day.
A number of shipping agents or companies normally involved in refuelling during fishing activities, have also put their vessels at the government’s disposal.
The least expensive offer was made by Gulf Fisheries Ltd, a company owned by Charles Grech, for €12,400 per day. Earlier this year, Grech’s services were hired by the government in an alleged return of migrants to Libya.
The Zammit Group, from Gozo, who import and distribute fuel, among other activities, filed an offer for €28,450 a day, while a related company, Walmar Marine Ltd, would charge €35,500 per day for the same service.
Bezzina Group – normally involved in ship repair – put in an offer for €2.3 million if the government chooses to hire the company’s services for six months, while MMH Malta Ltd, a shipping agency, is asking for €45,000 per day.
Captain Morgan – the vessels owned by the Zammit Tabonas who are also the owners of the Fortina Group – asked for €45,000 a day, excluding VAT, to hold 200 migrants.
Supreme Travel, the owners of other tourist boats, who were also given a direct order together with Captain Morgan during the past offshore detention, have put in an offer of almost €60,000 per day.
This time, the government issued a call asking for a complete package which, apart from the leasing of the vessel itself, includes crew, food, cleaning, fuel and security, among other services required.
During the first coronavirus peak, Captain Morgan and Supreme Travel were paid more than €3,000 a day for each vessel, apart from other payments to additional companies for ancillary services offering food, security, and other necessities, according to information released by the government.
The vessels were hired at these rates while being completely idle as neither Captain Morgan nor Supreme Travel had any business due to the shutdown of the tourist industry. Now that the tourist season has picked up, it is expected that the government will have to pay higher rates as reflected in the list of submissions.
A Freedom of Information request sent to the government by The Shift failed to provide any documentation related to the full costs, with the Home Affairs Ministry stating “such documents do not exist”.
According to the government, the total bill for last May’s failed operation cost taxpayers €1.7 million. Despite the government originally vowing that the detainees would be relocated to Europe, as Maltese ports were closed, the Prime Minister had to back down and allow the migrants to enter Malta.
In its latest offer, the government is not offering any details on its plans, including where the vessels will be located, how many migrants they will accommodate, the crew required and the duration of the lease.
This permits a great deal of subjectivity in determining the winning bid.